Monday, August 27, 2012

To Support, or Not to Support

There has been so much discussion lately about the "positions" of people, especially politicians on the military buildup. The concept of the buildup has been discussed so much for the past seven years, you could think there might be nothing left to say. You might assume that after years of debates, revelations, protests and so on, we might have finally come to the point where the buildup might hold no new ideological turns. It might just simply be a thing that has been hollowed out of all ideological ore and so people can speak about it in banal and normal ways.

You could assume these things and for the most part you'd be right. The years of debate did help bring into the world and into reality the buildup as an idea. Less people believe the hype about it and I mean this on both ends of the ideological spectrum. Less people believe in the buildup as a golden ticket, but also far fewer people believe in it as a rampaging beast. In the early days of buildup discussion so much of it focused on two fantasies, the first that all Guam's economic problems will be solved by it, and second that the Marines will go around raping everyone and pillaging Chamorro culture. Both were not true of course. There was some truth to both, but the scales were always tipped to feel as if the golden ticket fantasy was more true and the concern about militarisitic violence was just the racism of anti-American fringe elements.

Today neither fantasy holds much weight in Guam. If you say either thing in an ideologically mixed group of people you are probably going to get alot of rolled eyes and polite disengagements. As I've written before in many different ways, this disenchantment with the buildup is a good thing. It means that you can talk about it as a real, actual thing. Not something with supernatural evil or good powers, but just something that is out there and can be either good or bad depending on circumstances. The buildup may be good for some, not for others. It can damage some things, help with other things. Getting to the point where the fantasy, the smoke and mirrors around it no longer function is important since then you can actually talk about it.

But for the sectors of society who were most invested in supporting the buildup and making it a reality, they refuse to accept this as being an improvement or as something good. They in fact lament these realizations. The community has become more even keeled and constructive on the buildup, and don't just blindly support it, and for those who want the buildup this understanding is terrible. They want to blame it as ruining everything. They want to pretend that the buildup was slowed or isn't happening because people lost their faith in it or hurt the feelings of the United States and so they are punishing us by withholding their buildup love.

They are rearing their heads this election. For the past few months letters to the editor have appeared, Lee Webber's column in the PDN constantly takes this position and we hear more and more people arguing about punishing politicians (electorally), in particular Democrats who were critical of the military and the buildup. There is nowadays are renewed emphasis on trying to get people to say the right thing about the buildup and renew their blind faith in the military and its ability to save the island (economically). The Chamber of Commerce survey was a clear example of this. While it contains elements of the ideological unpacking of the buildup that has taken place over the past few years, the reference to insisting a candidate support "any" form of militarization reminds us again that those who enthusiastically supported the buildup had few facts or objective arguments on their side, but rather ran fueled by faith and dreams. Simply support the buildup, have faith in it and everything will be ok.

The past few months have been hysterical listening to the attacks on these politicians, painting them as being anti-American or anti-buildup. The "Fab Five" are often the object of these assaults. There are mentions of them verbally attacking Department of Defense officials. Making military people feel unwelcome on Guam. Helping to damage the patriotic luster that some on Guam try to contain. From these attacks you might think that the Rory Respicio of today is the Angel Santos of the 1990's. From these characterizations you might think that Judi Won Pat is being treated like her father was in the late 1940's when he was condemned as a "communist" by the US Navy. The rhetoric makes it seem like these politicians hang out at anti-buildup parties and love to show off their "F**K the Buildup" shirts.

What is hilarious about all of this is that none of these politicians are actually against the buildup. Of all the recent Senators in the Legislature Ben Pangelinan is the one who comes closest to "being against the buildup." All others however have expressed reservations and been critical of it, but have never come out against it. This is a key point in understanding how the pro-buildup position is primarily about faith and not fact. If the buildup is a real, concrete thing then "supporting" it is irrelevant, especially when Guam has little to no say in it. Supporting it doesn't make it better, doesn't make it so that it'll make Guam more prosperous. Support for the buildup is only necessary for maintaining and keeping alive the fantasy. As an actual process you can judge it as being good for something or bad for something, but loving it and wishing it were something, doesn't do much in terms of improving it as a process.

Someone who has been at the center of this storm of "supporting" or "not supporting" the buildup is Senator Judith Guthertz, the chair of the committee on military issues. She has always been in favor of the buildup, but also written about certain aspects that she found troubling. She has been singled out in many ways for attacks because of the many letters she has written protesting certain things and her office likes to make sure that the media knows about every letter that she writes. When something is a fantasy the reality of it doesn't matter, but rather the ideological layer that makes it seem to hum with vibrant life. That vibrant layer is affecting by things such as faith, and so while if you pay attention to everything Guthertz has said since 2007 she has been very consistent on supporting the buildup as it is a "win win" for the island and for the military. If you wanted to quantify her rhetoric into a number of how much she supports it, it isn't 100%, but it is definitely more than 50%. It is probably somewhere in the 70% or even 80%. She definitely supports the buildup, but she becomes a problem because her refusal to support the buildup wholeheartedly, her refusal to be a "true believer" in it, starts the process of fading that ideological luster.

Below is her response to criticism that she's been receiving that she has "changed" her stance on the buildup, and now supports it where in the past she was against it. 


Military buildup stance has been constant

2:00 PM, Aug. 25, 2012  |  

Lee Webber, the retired publisher of the Pacific Daily News, contends in his column of Aug. 23 that I have experienced "a change of heart" and suddenly decided to support the Guam military buildup/realignment. This is based on a letter I wrote concerning use of CNMI airports to divert plane traffic in the event of a typhoon or attack on Guam and not part of military buildup plans at all.
As the record that Webber either doesn't share or doesn't know shows, I, as well as the Guam Chamber of Commerce, have supported the proposed military buildup from the beginning of the discussions in 2007, provided that it is reasonable and fair to the people of Guam.

As Webber said, the Guam Chamber has asked candidates for the 32nd Guam Legislature to answer yes or no on whether they support a "proposition" in favor of "any program by our military to enhance its presence in the Mariana Islands."

Two statements from 2007 show that I and the Guam Chamber have long shared similar positions and support a military buildup that is a "win-win" for both the military and the people who make their home in Guam. That is not a statement approving everything the military wants to do in advance, as Webber and some of his like-minded colleagues are demanding from Guam's elected leadership.

April 2007: "I want it well understood that I fully support the movement of the 8,000 Marines and their dependents from Okinawa to Guam. As a patriotic American and a devoted Guamanian I believe that we will welcome our Marines 'home' with our noted hospitality." (My statement).

Aug. 13, 2007: "The Guam Chamber of Commerce pledges its full support for the planned U.S. military buildup, subject to the reasonable adjustments required to satisfy mutual concerns of the military and residents of Guam and the CNMI." (Statement by Stephen Ruder, chairman of the Guam Chamber of Commerce Board).

When I became chair of the Guam Military Buildup Committee of the Guam Legislature in 2009, I again took the position that Guam should benefit from the buildup: "Our primary responsibility will be to make sure that Guam truly benefits from the buildup. The motto for the committee is 'If it is not win-win, we both lose.'"

And this was echoed in a 2010 "white paper" by the Guam Chamber of Commerce supporting the buildup: "We believe that it is in our interests, the interests of the larger community that we serve and, in many respects, the interests of the government of the United States and its Department of Defense (DOD) to adjust the proposed actions in such a way as to enhance the benefits and reduce the potential negative impacts of said actions for Guam's civilian community."

As I told the Guam Chamber of Commerce in my submission this week, these statements by both myself and the Chamber "reflect positions that emphasize support for a positive and sustainable buildup. I continue to stand by my statements and I applaud the Chamber's like-minded position -- they read just as well today as they did when they were originally made."

The Chamber's proposition also suggested that if Guam allows the military to do anything it wants with no advance conditions, it will help us win U.S. statehood. I've been an active and vocal supporter of Guam statehood for many years, and while I agree with the Chamber's hope that support of the Guam military buildup would be a factor that "will open the doors, too long closed to us, to being recognized as a constructive and integral part of the United States," no true U.S. entity with full representation and constitutional rights would be expected to agree to such conditions as allowing the military to do absolutely anything it wants to do in Guam.

Reasonableness and fairness to the people of Guam must guide the military in designing and executing the military buildup in Guam. This is the commitment made by Department of the Navy Undersecretary Robert Work to all Guam residents during his visit to our island in January 2011. This has been and continues to be my position since the beginning of the buildup discussions in 2007.

Judith P. Guthertz is a senator in the 31st Guam Legislature.

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